Logan Lockhart
BarnBurner Sports Writer


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Where Does Each Team In The AFC West Stand As Free Agency Opens And The Road To The Draft Begins?

Despite possessing the defending Super Bowl 54 champion, the AFC West is strong 1-4. Make no mistake about it, this division will see some of the most intriguing matchups in 2020, and with the new playoff expansion debuting next season, it could have three playoff teams.


AFC West Power Rankings:


1. Kansas City

2. Denver

3. Las Vegas

4. Los Angeles Chargers


Los Angeles Chargers


The Chargers began the 2019 season with Super Bowl aspirations, after standing toe-to-toe with the Chiefs from a year prior in the AFC West. What transpired was one of the most disappointing seasons from any team in football--five wins, and last place in the division.


A three week holdout from Melvin Gordon, sub-par quarterback play from Philip Rivers, and a home field advantage diminished due to a takeover from road team fans--that’s the summary of the Chargers in 2019. The team officially turned into “LA’s second team” in 2019, eerilry similar to how the Clippers felt for decades in LA. But in 2020, a new stadium that will be shared with the Rams is ready for football, (SoFi Stadium) and the aforementioned Gordon and Rivers are no longer members of the team.


Gordon was released this week, after seeing his rushing numbers take a dive in 2019. The two-time pro bowler saw a decrease of almost 300 total rushing yards while sharing the backfield with Austin Eckler. Gordon is now a member of fellow AFC West rival the Denver Broncos. 


But the story for the Chargers this week was not the loss to the Rivers to Indianapolis or Gordon’s departure to Denver, but the signing of former Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. The signing of Harris makes the Chargers secondary as good as anyones in the NFL, as both him and Derwin James will cause trouble for opponents receivers. It’s not just the secondary that will be strong for Los Angeles on the defensive side of the ball however--Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will return to make the Chargers defence as good as anyones in the division.


Let’s not forget, this was the team that Tom Brady could have very well ended up at. The Chargers do have weapons on both sides of the field, but now it’s time to find an answer at quarterback. The Chargers brass have made it clear that they are comfortable to enter the season with QB Tyrod Taylor as a starter, but who’s really buying that? Los Angeles is expected to be aggressive in the draft to position themselves to take a quarterback early.


They sit sixth overall, but talks of a trade up have been discussed, most likely a jump to three, a spot currently occupied by the Lions. Whether it’s Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa, the Chargers will be in the mix take select someone that can carry the franchise on its back for years to come, after the departure of Rivers, who spent 15 years under centre in Southern California.


Las Vegas Raiders


The Las Vegas Raiders hired head coach Jon Gruden prior to the 2018 season for one reason--to set up the then Oakland Raiders to be ready for contention once the move to Vegas is official. Since Gruden’s arrival, the team has unloaded salary for draft picks and has seen its fair share of drama off the field--HBO Hard Knocks, Antonio Brown and a media fabricated feud between the aforementioned coach and QB Derek Carr. 


But it's 2020 now, and the proud franchise is not in Oakland anymore, they’re in a city that has never seen the NFL. 


The Raiders remain one of the most fascinating teams in the NFL, despite the move out of Oakland. The team signed former Titans QB Marcus Mariota to compete for the starting job with Carr, which should provide top-notch intrigue once training camp begins. 


Josh Jacobs was one of the league’s top rookies in 2019 and is poised to solidify himself as a top five RB next season. Along with Jacobs as a rookie last season was fourth overall pick from 2019 DE Clelin Ferrell, who was key in locking down the Raiders front seven.


As the rookies turn into sophomores and the young Raiders roster only gets better, the team added veteran pieces this pieces in an effort to put the squad into a position to succeed in a difficult AFC West. Jason Witten, Jeff Heath, Maliek Collins were all signed from the Cowboys, and the free agency action from the NFC East did not stop--Nelson Agholor from the Eagles  was signed to give either Mariota or Carr an established target in the slot.


The Raiders are ready to contend in 2020 from the start. It wasn’t until week seven last year when it became official that this team is here to stay. After a humbling 40-9 loss to the Chiefs in Week 13, we knew the Raiders weren’t ready in 2019, but in 2020 they will be.


Denver Broncos


The Broncos QB experiment from 2019 did not work out. Joe Flacco was hurt and added no value to Denver moving forward. But little did the Broncos know that the answer to its quarterback woes since the retirement of Peyton Manning was standing on the sidelines--second round pick from 2019 Drew Lock.


The former Missouri Tiger did not start for the Broncos until Week 13 against the Chargers, where he threw for 134 yards and two touchdowns. In five total starts in his young NFL career, Lock has thrown for over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns. A small sample size, but enough, and John Elway and company will take it moving forward in Denver.


The Broncos addition of Melvin Gordon this week turn its backfield into one of the best in football. A RB duo of Philip Lindsay and Gordon should be effective, and open up more passing opportunities for Lock.


Denver’s defence has been strong all decade long, including in the sub-par years after the Super Bowl 50 victory, but now, the offence should be just as formidable. Former Jaguars CB A.J Bouye will step in to fill the void of Chris Harris Jr, and be a good fit in the defensive schemes of Vic Fangio.


The Broncos have committed to Drew Lock, and with good reason, but the Broncos have turned into a quarterback graveyard over the last four seasons, and they will have to hope Lock isn’t just another flash in the pan. 


Kansas City Chiefs


The Super Bowl 54 champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. 


Barring any unprecedented disaster, the Chiefs will win the AFC West in 2020. Patrick Mahomes is a superstar and may only be getting better. Health was a concern for Mahomes at times in 2019, but the Tyler, Texas native stepped forward when it mattered most and played one the best fourth quarters of his career, coming back from 10 down to beat the 49ers, capturing the Lombardi Trophy.


Kansas City has spent the early goings of free agency beefing its offensive line, for added protection for Mahomes and to open more running holes for Damien Williams. Former Giants T Mike Remmers will step in on a one-year deal.


Staying with the theme of defence, the team added depth in the secondary to help out Chiefs 2019 standout Tyrann Mathieu by signing CB Antonio Hamilton. Hamilton has only started two games in four seasons, spending time in both Oakland and New York with the Giants.


Depth is crucial in football and especially vital for team gearing up for another Super Bowl run--a run the Chiefs will hope is one of many as they make the case to be the next great NFL dynasty.


The most notable of moves for Kansas City thus far in the offseason was applying the franchise tag to Chris Jones. After failing to agree on a long term deal, the Chiefs will buy more time to negotiate by applying the tag, as well as ensuring Jones is present on the KC defence once September comes around. Jones has been the team leader for sacks for the last two seasons, including a tremendous effort in 2018, where he totaled 15.5 for the season.